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'The Killing' recap: You're off the case, Linden!

May 16, 2011 |  9:00 am

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Well, it only took eight episodes, but in "Stonewalled," it sure seems like Sarah Linden has finally snapped. I fully expect the next episode to involve her rampaging through downtown Seattle, setting fires in spite of the rain, and angrily screaming "WHO KILLED ROSIE LARSEN?!" at just about anybody she happens to corner. That or, you know, she could yell at her son a few times here and there.

One of the bigger problems with "The Killing" is that it seems to lack dramatic tension. It's got marvelous atmosphere and mood. It's got beautiful scenery and direction. It's got some riveting performances, from actors doing their best with barely-there characters. But there's no real dramatic momentum or impetus for anybody's actions on this show. It's a beautifully shot slog, with lots and lots of things that are the way they are because it seems as though the writers just think that's the way you do a quality cable drama.

Don't get me wrong -- not every show needs to be full-throttle action. I love a slow-paced story that gradually unveils its secrets. Heck, not every show needs to have a narrative. Over on HBO at the same time as "The Killing," "Treme" is pretty much just saying, "This is how life was lived in New Orleans post-Katrina, and you're either into that or you're not." But "The Killing" is trying to have the beautiful mystery of the best art films and the compelling characters and story lines of the best serialized TV, only it's not really nailing the latter. So it feels empty, a gorgeous shell that doesn't wholly add up.

That is, it feels empty until the characters start getting proactive. Remember when Stan gave Bennet that ride home and "missed" Bennet's exit? That was pretty exciting because this man was taking the search for his daughter's killer into his own hands. And now that he had the chief suspect in his car? Well, he might do ANYthing.

But every time the show creates a moment of tension like that, it immediately deflates it. At least, that was the pattern until this episode, which did a lot of stupid things but at least gave us a Linden who finally seems at her wit's end. Finding herself blocked out of the case by the FBI and out of her personal life by her fiance, Linden finally seems ready to do whatever it takes to solve this thing on her own by the time the episode picks up a little momentum. She gets the files on the case emailed to her, so she has her own copies (a decision that bears some unfortunate consequences). She takes on the authorities who are trying to shut down the case. She snaps at her kid after he does something stupid. She tails Holder when it seems like he's being mysterious. She still doesn't seem like the terrifying woman the other characters keep saying might show up if she gets too involved in the case, but at least she seems like she could reside in the same general neighborhood as that woman.

Now maybe this will all change come next week. Maybe the next episode will immediately open with Oakes telling Linden he's sorry he snapped at her, and Jack apologizing for emailing the photos, and Rick giving her a call to tell her to take as long as she wants because the wedding is on whenever she needs it to be. And maybe then Linden will go back to staring moodily into the middle distance and seemingly considering the boundless depths of man's inhumanity to man.

But I hope not. I don't think this version of Linden is one that's quite ready to carry a top-line drama series, but Mireille Enos clearly shows she's capable of handling whatever the writers hand to her in this episode, that she's just waiting for them to give her tougher stuff than basically playing the same notes she played in the first half of the season. The scene with Jack, in particular, felt like a scene we needed to see much earlier. It's been clear for a while now that Linden's relationship with her son could be healthier, but she's not really sure how to rebuild it all the same. When he emails the pictures of the crime scene to his friends and the photos end up on the news, she has reason to be mad, but it's also a scene in which we see just how little these two really know each other. She loves Jack, but she's basically become an absentee parent, and as much as she might rage, her words don't carry a lot of weight with him.

Notice the other really effective scenes here, which involve Linden tracking Holder to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Now, Holder recovering from an addiction isn't a surprise (the show's been dropping such obvious hints for so long that I'm surprised it tried to treat the revelation as a shock), but the scene in which he delivers a monologue about taking a gold coin from a young relative is very well played by Joel Kinnaman. And the final scene in which Linden and Holder decide to get on the same page concerning the investigation, leading them to head in to listen to the tap Holder placed on Bennet's phone, is a good and necessary one, letting these partners finally be partners (though it might have played better if the frustration between the two had been more evident in previous weeks).

On the other hand, there's still a ton of stupid stuff in this episode: Mitch nearly asphyxiates her kids by leaving them in the car while it's running in a closed garage because she sees the photos of Rosie's death scene on TV; Jamie talks with Drexler at a, uh, cage fight; an FBI agent conveniently walks away from the evidence he just told Linden she couldn't see. But if the show can keep building this version of Linden -– the vaguely self-destructive one -– and keep her paired up with Holder believably, well, it might just salvage a season that seemed to be going nowhere.

Photo: Jack (Liam James) disappoints his mother, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), when he goes poking through her private documents. Credit: AMC

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Complete Show Tracker "The Killing" coverage

-- Todd VanDerWerff
Twitter.com/@tvoti

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